Maybe you’ve fallen into this trap before: Those big and probably overly ambitious goals of eating healthy, exercising more and improving your life in the new year.
Perhaps you were successful (great job!). Perhaps you crashed and burned early (understandable!). Or perhaps you started strong only to fall out of the routine as the months went on (also understandable!).
We talked to Brooke Kanigowski, RDN, an outpatient dietitian with Our Lady of the Angels Health, about tips to maintain a focus on healthy eating and fitness in a way that sets you up for consistent success as the year goes on.
Don’t Skip Meals
It might seem logical that skipping meals would lead to weight loss, but it can actually have the opposite effect. Your metabolism will decrease, you’ll burn less energy and you’ll likely feel too tired or sluggish to be motivated for exercise or other activities throughout the day.
Plus, skipping a meal can lead to overeating when the next meal comes around. Some studies even suggest that more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day can help with weight loss.
“Skipping meals can lead to excess hunger, overeating and can also contribute to spikes in your blood sugar,” Kanigowski says. “Enjoy regular balanced meals throughout the day.”
Find Balance in What You Eat
Kanigowski says you can allow yourself those favorite dishes and indulgences occasionally, like at a special meal. But balance them out with healthier choices either at the same meal or before and after, like lean proteins, vegetables and fruits.
Again, don’t skip a regular meal if you know you have a big meal coming. Just plan ahead to bookend the meal with healthier options.
“If you enjoy a sweet treat, cut back on the amount of other carbs (potatoes, rice, bread) during the meal to help balance your blood sugar,” Kanigowski says.
Use Portion Control
Using smaller plates, bowls and cups can reduce your overall portions and help you avoid overeating. They can also help you practice mindfulness when eating — taking your time to focus on the enjoyment of food and giving your body a chance to digest and register that it is full. This can help when it comes to considering going back for seconds.
As for dessert, Kanigowski suggests to “split indulgent dishes with a friend or family member to reduce portion sizes.”
Drinking water throughout the day has many, many benefits. For one thing, it helps curb your appetite. And if adding more exercise to your routine is one of your goals for the new year, hydration is a big part of that.
Drinking plenty of water reduces the risk of heat stress, helps you maintain normal body function, and helps you reach your exercise goals and perform better.
Remember: Sugary drinks are not a substitute for fresh water.
Keep Active, Even in Small Ways
Sometimes, the hardest part is to start an exercise routine.
So set simple goals, like getting up from your desk at work and walking around the office every hour or so. After lunch or dinner, make time for a five-minute walk. Do some simple stretches first thing in the morning or before bed.
Maintaining these kinds of routines are beneficial on their own, but they can also help to jumpstart other ways of staying active. It’s easy to forget that exercise is a natural energizer, so you may find yourself motivated to do even more!
Be Realistic and Be Kind to Yourself
Kanigowski says to try to avoid the “all or none” mindset.
“If you slip up and overindulge, don’t be too hard on yourself,” she says. “Instead of aiming for perfection, focus on making those small, gradual changes.”
Avoid focusing on a rigid result you expect to see, such as a specific amount of weight loss. Instead, work toward building a healthier life with achievable goals, such as increasing the number of meals you cook at home each week or the number of times you step outside for a walk or jog.
It’s the difference between the anxiety of looking forward at a looming and unrealistic goal versus looking back at all the positive gains you’ve made with just a few small changes.